Why Self-Compassion Is A Wise and Practical Choice

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Compassionate action arises when we understand that beneath our different circumstances and appearances lies an essential oneness, a shared human experience.

Though we know this oneness includes our self, many of us have an easier time extending compassion to strangers than to the person reflected in our bathroom mirror. However, by not showing self-compassion we exclude ourself from the human race.

Self-compassion means relating to the self with concern and kindness. It requires us to see that flaws, failures, and pain are part of the human condition, and that the person we call “I” shares in the human condition. Each of us is one of those “other people” who deserve appreciation and respect.

The Power of Warmth

In cold climates, ice often builds up on the sidewalk. Frequently, before trying to remove the ice, people sprinkle salt on it so it begins to melt. This makes breaking the ice up and shoveling it away much easier.

Any problem we may have, such as depression or anxiety, can seem to be a thick, slippery buildup of ice. We may chop away at it with self-criticism until we feel exhausted, or we can soften the ice by treating ourself kindly.

Self-compassion is a gentle warmth that loosens the icy grip of self-condemnation. It is not just a lofty spiritual ideal, but part of the human heart’s practical, healing wisdom. So, it seems choosing the compassionate way would be a no-brainer, but for many of us it is a tough decision.

Tough Self-Love

What is tough about self-compassion? It takes courage to let go of the habitual self-critical thoughts we have identified with for much of our lives. It takes daring to embrace self-nurturing thoughts that seem foreign and maybe even foolish. It takes determination because you must prove the benefits of self-compassion to yourself (words such as these prove nothing, but may encourage the effort to apply self-compassion and see how it works).

Fortunately, we do not have to embrace self-compassion all at once; the human condition is built into the process. We experiment, succeed one moment, fail the next, doubt, lose hope, get fed-up with our situation, re-contemplate compassion, and try again. Yet, trying does not mean a series of grand gestures—compassion is effective when gestures are small.

Three Ways To Build A Self-Compassion Habit

You do not have to feel compassionate to act compassionate. All acts of self-kindness, felt or not, will disrupt established patterns of self-critical thought.

  1. Instead of reacting to self-criticism by refusing to be self-critical or pushing the thoughts away, simply notice the feeling or feelings that come with the criticism. Being aware of how you feel—without trying to escape the feeling—is an act of self-compassion.
  2. Once or twice during the day, lay a gentle hand over your heart (as you would rest a compassionate hand on the shoulder of a friend). Simultaneously send yourself a kind thought such as, “You’re human, I get it. I’m on my side.”
  3. When realizing that you have indulged in some hearty self-criticism give yourself a lighthearted pep talk such as, “Whoa, there I go again, being hard on myself - not helpful.”

 
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